It's time again for SWE Scholarships' post on the blog. May 1st marked the end of the 2017-2018 academic year’s submission and application process for soon-to-be Freshman.This means school is out for the summer and over the next few months, our scholarship blog content will be "simmering" instead of cooking on high. Look out for a few blog posts this season, but expect scholarship content to come back in full force after WE17.
For this month’s post, SWE HQ interviewed a SWE scholarship judge, Diana Goluch. This post encapsulates who she is, her passion for engineering and why it's so important to judge scholarships like ours for women engineering students.
HQ: Where do you live and what have you done with engineering in your career so far?
DG: I grew up and went to school on the south side of Chicago (IIT) and currently live in Libertyville, IL. I have a background in computer engineering and have spent my career thus far working with electronics. I started my career as a software engineer developing the radio interface layer for mobile devices. I've had many roles over the years from technical lead for embedded security where I did engineering project management and architecture, to my latest role which was quality and continuous improvement manager where I dealt with everything from mechanical/electrical design, product packaging, UI design, manufacturing, engineering process improvement, and even field support dealing with customer complaints and reverse logistics. Computer engineering gives you a great foundation that you can do just about anything with.
HQ: What inspired you personally, to become an engineer?
DG: That's a somewhat complicated question =) I would have to say it was a combination of the overall environment in my life growing up that lead me to the path of engineering rather than a single, straightforward thing that inspired me.
I'm the daughter of Polish immigrants. My parents didn't even have running water on their farms back home and they didn't have the opportunity to get a higher education. They always instilled a very strong appreciation for education and hard work in me; they worked hard so that I could have access to things that they didn't or couldn't have.
My mom, probably more than anyone, inspired me to make sure I could support myself and be an independent woman. She wanted me to have a better life. Engineering seemed like truly the best practical outlet to do that while taking advantage of all the STEM subjects I enjoyed studying in high school. Additionally, my older brother became a mechanical engineer and I could see from his experiences that I would enjoy the practical application aspects of a similar career. I liked the idea of being able to apply myself to solving real world problems while entering a field that had endless opportunities so off I went.
HQ: How long have you been a SWE member?
DG: I've been a member for 15 years.
HQ: What ignited your interest in becoming a SWE scholarship judge?
DG: I wanted to be able to do something that contributed to other young women who had an interest or passion for engineering getting the opportunity to have a career in engineering like I had.
My parents never had an abundance of money and I got through college almost entirely on scholarships. I might still be in debt from loans, or I may not have been able to finish my degree at all, if I hadn't had various scholarships available to me to pay for my engineering degree.
HQ: You judged upperclassmen applications; do you plan to judge freshmen as well?
DG: Yes, I've judged both upperclassmen and freshmen applications on and off for the past several years and plan to do both this year as well.
HQ: What aspects are you looking to shine through the most in the applicant's responses?
DG: I'm looking to get a sense that the applicant genuinely wants to go into the engineering field and that she enjoys learning, tinkering, and doing all the things that indicate an "engineering personality."
It's not entirely about having straight A's, though that does help. For me, it's more about being curious and giving me a sense that she'll actually enjoy the field she's in after she graduates; she wants to find ways to apply all this new knowledge in the real world because to me that is what engineering is all about, the creation of useful things and the use of creativity for solving complex problems.
The applicants can show their interest through the clubs and activities they participate in, their description of themselves in their essays, what things their recommendations have to say about them, and even what types of volunteer work they have chosen to do.
If she's truly interested in STEM then it will likely be obvious as it permeates everything she participate in and how the people around her describe her. For instance, a recommendation from a pastor or a neighbor about how the applicant has cleverly and resourcefully fixed the microphone/speakers in the church or how she volunteered to work at a robotics workshop with the kids in the neighborhood will go a lot further than a recommendation from an AP Calculus teacher that talks about how friendly of a person the applicant is and how she always helps pass out the homework packets but entirely fails to mention that she enjoys math or science.
HQ: Are there any responses that have stuck with you?
DG: I love any responses that give me a personal story about the types of projects, formal or informal, the applicant has enjoyed participating in. It could be a story about how she took apart dad's RC car at home when she was 10 years old to see how it worked, or it can be a story about how she enjoyed participating in a team during an internship to create a new prosthetic knee design or perform lab tests for some sort of genetic analysis. I don't care how big or small the project was but it says quite a bit about whether a person is really interested in STEM or not by how they describe themselves, their personality traits, and the project.
It's great to see an applicant write with excitement and curiosity about applying engineering principles, even if they didn't realize that was what they were doing at the time. It has stuck with me that there are great new personal stories every year I review applications.
HQ: Why do you think scholarships for women in the STEM industries are so important?
DG: Similar to my earlier response about why I volunteer, I think it's important to provide scholarships to women so that they have the opportunity to pursue STEM careers when they might not have been able to otherwise.
Money shouldn't prevent someone from going after something they have a passion for or interest in.
These scholarships give women the ability to enter careers in which they can be independent and it shows women that we're intelligent and capable, even though we're currently often less visible due to lower percentages of women in these professions. By having a scholarship targeted to women in STEM, I think it provides encouragement and confidence to show young women that they can thrive in these fields which may not be as obvious from a gender-neutral or major-neutral scholarship.
HQ: You judged applicants who had returned to school for an Engineering or Computer Science Masters degree after an unrelated undergraduate degree. Was there anything from that experience that you can turn into advice for students in similar situations?
DG: My advice would be to make sure the applicant is clear about her purpose and expectations of getting the additional degree in engineering or computer science. Why is she interested in that and what will she use it for? If all the extracurricular activities, volunteer work, work experience, essay, and recommendation letters fail to show an interest in engineering/CS and only talk about the other unrelated major then it's confusing to me as a judge. This is an engineering/CS scholarship after all so I need to understand why it is that the applicant is now pursuing an additional degree in STEM after the undergrad was a different path.
HQ: Did you find a good method for going through applications? They contain a lot of great information, but we know that a judge's time is valuable, so we would love to share your process with other judges.
DG: I try not to submit any score sheets until I've reviewed at least 5 or 10 applications. This way I can start to level-set my scoring method and get a more consistent idea of what I would consider a top response. I might go back and adjust an earlier score based on the next 7 or 8 applications I had reviewed. Having the scoring rubric open in the background for easy reference makes things go a little faster too. Then I make sure to have all of the files for one applicant open at a time so I can switch between them quickly and compare information while scoring.
Do you want to learn more about SWE Scholarships? Please visit: societyofwomenengineers.swe.org/scholarships.